If you are wondering whether alcohol is technically a drug, you are not alone with this query. People use the term “drug and alcohol rehab” as if these are two separate types of substances, so they must be, right? Alcohol is legally consumed on a regular basis across the globe, but there are regulations and laws banning “drugs” like heroin and cocaine. Considering these factors, it seems a no-brainer that alcohol is not a drug… but wait, what is a drug anyways?

Defining a “Drug”

Wikipedia defines a drug as “any substance that causes a change in an organism’s physiology or psychology when consumed.” They comment that drugs are distinctly different from substances that provide nutritional support, such as food or vitamin supplements. 

Is Alcohol A Narcotic? 

In order to fully answer the question of whether alcohol is a drug or not, we must reframe the question and ask it again: Is alcohol a narcotic?

According to the Oxford Dictionary, a narcotic is “a drug or other substance that affects mood or behavior and is consumed for nonmedical purposes, especially one sold illegally.” This definition seems similar to that of a drug, but with an elaboration on medical use and legality.

Alcohol certainly does affect mood and behavior. It is considered a depressant, meaning that it slows the messages sent between the brain and body. Consequently, it causes slurred speech, decreased motor skills, decreased reaction time, and altered perceptions of reality.

There is no known medical purpose for consuming alcohol. Although, you may have seen alcohol used as a last resort anesthetic or disinfectant in movies. It is just that – a last resort.

The purchase of alcohol is legal in most parts of the world for individuals over a certain age but is not always legal. Generally, alcohol consumption is regulated in some fashion. 

So… for the most part, it sounds like alcohol is a narcotic and a drug. However, alcohol is not considered a narcotic according to the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). According to the DEA, narcotics refer to illicit opioid medications. 

Comparing Alcohol to Other “Drugs”

As mentioned above, alcohol is categorized as a depressant based on how it interacts with our brain and the effects it produces. So why not consider other depressants when addressing the question of whether alcohol is a drug? Other depressants include barbiturates (butalbital, phenobarbital, Pentothal, Seconal, and Nembutal) and benzodiazepines (Valium, Xanax, Halcion, Ativan, Klonopin, and Restoril). These medications are unquestionably considered drugs. Once again, our analysis supports that alcohol is in fact a drug.

So, What’s the Big Deal?

This topic seems to be semantics, but in short, yes, alcohol is a drug. But why does it even matter if alcohol is considered a drug? Well, there are a number of reasons why it is important that people understand that alcohol is a drug. For one, alcohol is a mind-altering and highly addictive substance that affects millions of lives every year. The lack of seriousness placed on alcohol may be a big reason why abuse and addiction are so common. Perhaps if we started looking at alcohol as what it really is – a drug – then maybe people would stop consuming the substance nonchalantly. Additionally, the way a substance is classified does affect the way in which it is regulated. 

We have seen from history that alcohol is ingrained in our culture, and regulating it would not happen easily. What we can do on an individual basis is remind ourselves that alcohol is indeed a drug and its consumption should not be taken lightly if there is ever going to be a reduction in the number of people with alcohol use disorders in America.